What just happened to those streaky Indians?
CLEVELAND — When this latest sad volume of Cleveland Indians history is written, bound and placed on a shelf alongside all the others, the 2017 Major League Baseball team will be remembered for two notable streaks: the record 22 consecutive games it won in August and September, and the three in a row it lost in October.
Thanks in part to the winning streak, the Indians finished with 102 victories in the regular season, then entered the playoffs with justifiably high expectations. Indians fans, who suffered through Cleveland’s agonizing loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, felt this had to be the year. Their team was finally going to win its first World Series since 1948.
But the Indians’ loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of their American League Division Series on Wednesday night left the 2017 version of the team just as frustrated as last year’s.
“It absolutely stinks,” said Cody Allen, Cleveland’s closer, who gave up the final two runs in the Yankees’ series-winning 5-2 victory. “It’s like being a kid going to an amusement park, and after 10 minutes you have to leave.”
The Indians were forced to exit this post-season because of uncharacteristically poor play in the series’ final three games, in which they committed more errors (seven) than they scored runs (five). Three of those errors came in Game 5, and one of them, by outfielder Jay Bruce in the ninth inning, allowed the Yankees’ final run to score.
“A lot of people expected better from us,” said catcher Roberto Perez, who was charged with another of the Game 5 errors, for catcher’s interference. “But the last three games, we didn’t play well.”
They had played exceedingly well before the post-season, running off a 22-game winning streak that did not end until the middle of September. It was the longest streak of its kind in American League history, and even after the Indians lost, they turned right around to go 11-4 to close out the regular season and roll into the playoffs.
They shut out the Yankees in Game 1 of the division series, and rallied from five runs down to win Game 2. But somehow, that was it for the Indians, and they never looked imposing in the three games that followed.
So what happened? Was it just the Yankees grabbing the series away from them? Or did the Indians peak too soon? Did the winning streak add to the pressure they felt to break the long championship drought? Maybe that pressure explained some of the sloppy play and tight at-bats that scuttled their season so abruptly.
Perhaps, after seven decades of futility, the Indians are just destined to fall short. The Cubs, the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox all had to live with that kind of reputation before ending a long championship drought. The Red Sox did it in 2004 (after not winning since 1918), the White Sox in 2005 (1917) and the Cubs last year (1908).
Now it is Cleveland’s turn to be the team that has gone the longest without a title and to deal with all the anguish that comes with watching each successive failure heaped on the previous one.
“We love our team,” relief pitcher Andrew Miller said after Game 5, “and the fact that the guys in this clubhouse were able to win 22 in a row and win 102 in the regular season — it says a lot about the ability of this team to win the World Series. But there are no guarantees.”
Miller, who surrendered the home run to Greg Bird that decided Game 3, said the players know all too well how much Cleveland fans ache for a championship, for a celebration in the downtown streets that were so quiet and empty late Wednesday night.
“We’re busting our tails trying to find a way to get that parade,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen this year. But you’ve got to like our chances next year.”
Of course, that’s what the Indians said last year, too.
The Cleveland Indians watch the final out in a 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night in Game 5 of their American League Divisional Series that eliminated them from post-season play.